Conflict Over Observing Non-Majority Holidays: A Story from NYC’s Subway

While riding the subway in New York City, you’re likely to encounter diverse folks from all walks of life.  My rush hour commute stars a vibrant cast of characters, and as I can’t help but eavesdrop… I’ve overheard plenty of interesting, perplexing, and even offensive conversations.

Yesterday, I listened in on a young Orthodox Jewish couple recounting their work days to each other.  The woman had just finished her very first day of work at a new job, and was explaining to her husband that she had confirmed that technically, employees don’t start accruing vacation days until they’ve been at the company for 3 months.  She was concerned because the Jewish High Holy days (Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kipper) were just weeks away and she would need to take three days off.  When she approached HR, the HR representative’s response was that she was welcome to take 3 unpaid days since it’s a religious holiday, but that there was no way she could use her vacation days before the 3 month mark.  “I feel like I’m starting off on the wrong foot, but I'm not going to change who I am.” 

Yesterday at Tanenbaum, our Workplace program conducted a webinar for over 150 SHRM members on the topic of “other” holidays – the holidays that fall outside of what Americans consider the “Holiday Season.” We focused on tips for accommodating scheduling requests, and provided these HR professionals with useful facts about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali, Ramadan, and the Eid-al-Fitr.  Maybe – just maybe – that woman’s HR representative was amongst our attendees, and now has a more complete understanding of what that new employee might need in preparation for the Jewish High Holy Days, and what this time off means to her.

I know that if I interviewed a random sample of people on the subway, I would come up with similar stories.  Most of the time, employees’ religious identities stay under the radar in the workplace, and, often, time-off requests are the first time that the Human Resources department encounters an employee's religion or observances around a particular holiday.

With a bit more information, employees and managers alike can proactively address issues that come up around “lesser” known holidays. To that end, I encourage you to take a look at our helpful fact sheets for upcoming holidays, and share them with your friends, family and colleagues.


Annie Levers
Program Assistant, Workplace

Obama Adjusts Contraception Mandate, Attempts Compromise: News Roundup

In the news this week: Obama offers compromise to contraception mandate, one writer explores anti-Christian sentiment in Muslim-majority nations, a group of Marines pose in front of an SS flag, and other stories.

President Barack Obama, in an abrupt policy shift aimed at quelling an election-year firestorm, announced on Friday that religious employers would not be required to offer free birth control to workers and the onus would instead be put on insurers.
But Catholic Church leaders and Obama's Republican opponents, who had railed against the Democratic president's new rule on contraceptives as a violation of religious freedom, signaled that divisions remain over the hot-button social issue. Reuters
We hear so often about Muslims as victims of abuse in the West and combatants in the Arab Spring’s fight against tyranny. But, in fact, a wholly different kind of war is underway—an unrecognized battle costing thousands of lives. Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion. It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm. Newsweek
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich inserted himself into the long-running controversy about whether religious groups should be allowed to hold services in New York City public schools, and accused Mayor Michael Bloomberg of being "anti-religious." Chicago Tribune
More than 30 Muslim and legal advocacy groups are urging New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to investigate the New York City Police Department after the second scandal in as many weeks involving Muslim Americans.
On Thursday (Feb. 2), The Associated Press reported that it had obtained a secret 2006 NYPD report, “U.S.-Iran Conflict: The Threat to New York City,” which recommended that officers “expand and focus intelligence” at Shiite mosques. Washington Post
A shocking photo shows a U.S. Marines team posing in front of an SS flag in Afghanistan, drawing comparisons to a Nazi symbol. The Marine Corps confirmed one of its scout sniper teams posed in front of the notorious flag in September 2010 in Sangin province but insisted the issue has since been addressed internally.
Former Marines have been left outraged by the picture and are calling for a full investigation, but military officials say they have already probed the photo and confirmed it was not racially-motivated. Daily Mail
A billboard campaign funded by a secular, atheist and humanist organization called the African Americans for Humanism, is facing an outpouring of hate and criticism by the religious. iNEWP
A Sikh house of worship under construction on Dequindre just north of 14 Mile was vandalized with what appears to be anti-Muslim graffiti.
The Sikh building, known as a gurdwara, was defaced Sunday evening or Monday morning, said a Sikh advocacy group. Some of the graffiti read: "Don't Builed" and "Mohmed," which appears to refer to Mohammed. The graffiti also included a Christian cross, a pistol and the letters R and A. It's unclear what the letters refer to. Detroit Free Press
Hindus want Diwali be declared a school holiday in Jersey City, Edison, Woodbridge, Parsippany-Troy Hills, West Windsor-Plainsboro, North Brunswick, Monroe and Bernards school districts in New Jersey (USA).
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that since it was important for Hindu families to celebrate Diwali day together at home with their children, we did not want our children to be deprived of any privileges at the school because of thus resulting absences on this day. Closing schools on Diwali would ensure that and it would be “a step in the right direction”. Eurasia Review


A Second King Hearing on Muslims, Conflicts Facing Female Muslim Atheltes, and More: News Roundup

In the news this week: a second King hearing, female Muslim athletes face wardrobe conflicts, Norway discovers unexpected school racism, and other stories.

Representative Peter King (R-NY) has scheduled a second hearing (Washington Post) on the “radicalization of the Muslim-American community" for June 15th. This hearing will focus on the radicalization of convicted felons by fellow inmates (CNN) while incarcerated. It is expected to draw much of the same opposition as the first hearing, specifically by those believing the hearings are a McCarthy style witch-hunt and assault on Muslims.
This week brought two cases of female Muslim athletes struggling to compete while respecting their religious traditions. The Iranian women’s soccer team (Washington Post) was disqualified mere minutes before a crucial Olympic qualifying match because they wore Islamic headscarves. The team designed special headscarves in an attempt to satisfy a new FIFA rule, but officials deemed the scarves illegal. The team plans on protesting the ruling. In the states, a female Muslim weightlifter (CNN) has motivated the United States Olympic Committee to review their attire policies. Athletes are mandated to keep their elbows and knees uncovered so that judges can see that a competitor’s elbows and knees are locked during a lift. The committee has committed to discussing whether the same determination can be made if an athlete sports a tight uniform.
The government of Norway commissioned a report to investigate religious racism in schools and was shocked by the results. Views and News from Norway reports that, “most worrisome for school and city officials was the high level of Jewish students, 33 percent, who reported harassment at least two to three times a month.”
A California man accused of attacking a Sikh taxi driver (Sacramento Bee) in November has been sentenced to 13 years in state prison. The conflict originally arose over a disputed fare, but when the driver decided to drop the issue the defendant continued by shouting racial slurs and punching the driver in the face repeatedly. A second defendant who had a lesser role in the attack was previously sentenced to felony probation.
The Huffington Post reports that, “the Department of Defense has recently established the first Hindu Military Chaplain program in American history. Army Captain Pratima Dharm, who currently works as a Chaplain Clinician at Walter Reed Medical Center Hospital, took on her new role as the Army's first Hindu Chaplain as of May 16.” This is particularly important to the changing demographics of the United States and its armed forces. There has been a significant increase in South Asian immigrants in the past decade, resulting in a greater number of Hindus in the military.
This week has also brought us substantial updates in the proposed California circumcision bans. The individual driving Santa Monica circumcision ban (USA Today) withdrew after the issue turned highly religious. She was quoted as distancing herself from the group responsible the San Francisco ban effort (LA Times), Speaking of, its leader has taken heat for co-authoring a comic book that includes some arguably anti-Semitic language and imagery.